Ruby Walsh: Panorama programme raises worrying questions for racing

I sat down last Monday night to watch The Dark Side of Horse Racing not knowing what to expect but knowing from the trailers I had seen on the BBC during the day that it was going to be an uncomfortable experience, writes Ruby Walsh
Ruby Walsh: Panorama programme raises worrying questions for racing

I sat down last Monday night to watch The Dark Side of Horse Racing not knowing what to expect but knowing from the trailers I had seen on the BBC during the day that it was going to be an uncomfortable experience.

This was because watching animals about to be euthanised is only a comfortable experience for a sadist. Still, I learned that horse racing has questions to answer, and an abattoir in Swindon has even more.

I could write here that the practices in use at the abattoir owned and run by F Drury & Sons were the biggest culprits in the Panorama programme, but that’s hiding behind many realities staring horse racing in the face. One can only assume the relevant authorities in the UK will investigate all the flaws in their practices that the footage from inside their abattoir exposed. Their animal welfare and safety practices were extraordinarily worrying and one hopes the relevant British authorities will take suitable action.

Still, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) have questions to ask and answer themselves. HRI has already contacted gardaí about how a horse carrying the microchip belonging to Tammy's Hill appeared in Swindon. He had died five years previously at Fairyhouse, so who took his microchip out? Who kept it? Who got his passport from his connections? And why was it put in another horse?

My theory is someone is trying to maximise the value of horse meat by getting it into the human food chain when it shouldn’t be there. Most thoroughbreds are treated with a drug called Bute at some stage in their life, most geldings when they are gelded being a simple example. It’s not a requirement as other medications can be used but it is the most efficient drug, one that is not dissimilar to pain medication in humans, Still, once they get the drug, the vet who administers it will stamp their passport “not fit for human consumption”, thus rendering the vast majority of racehorse meat worthless.

While Animal Aid was filming in 2019, 40 horses at the abattoir in Swindon were found to contain two microchips; perhaps the UK police and the gardaí have a case to explore too.

You might ask, why not the BHA along with the relevant Irish bodies? They have only one question to answer, and that’s about the suitability of this particular abattoir. Therefore no individual transported a horse there for “live export “, and that’s my biggest issue here.

The sad and uncomfortable decision on the life of all animals has to be made at some stage, but it has to be carried out correctly. Hard calls are the most difficult to make, but you should know the answer and not assume it, which seems to have been the case here.

From quotes and comments made during and after the programme, none of the connections involved knew precisely where their horses went, but none of them intended it to be where they went.

Then again, how would they? All were given to a dealer to carry out their owner’s intentions, but what obligation is on the dealer to do so? None because they didn’t, and nobody knew they hadn’t, and it’s unethical rather than illegal to use a UK abattoir for Irish horses.

Since Brexit, these horses would not get past the department of agriculture vets at Irish ports. I can’t speak for those north of the border but should horse racing be depending on the border checks to track and trace retired racehorses? That’s a question for the welfare department in HRI and anybody who owns a racehorse, but we have a horse welfare department so surely it should know where every registered thoroughbred on this Island is or has gone.

The authoritative bodies here either fund or licence participation in horse racing, so placing the onus on them to make sure everybody follows correct procedures is not unfair.

The avenues to what people can do with retired racehorses should be clear. Retaining and rehousing is preferable, but euthanasia will happen because of humane reasons, so the options of where and how should be limited.

The designation of two plants should eradicate the chances of horses being exported live for this. I don’t for one minute buy the financial implications on people as a valid excuse. A pup is not just for Christmas, so having to shell out a couple of hundred euros to do the right thing by an animal that easily costs that per month is, to my mind, the least anybody can do.

Each person has to know the hard truth, not assume it, and somebody needs to be checking.

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